Derek Fisher and the New York Knicks continued their impressive performance this preseason in back-to-back games against the Boston Celtics the Charlotte Hornets.
On Friday the Knicks defeated the Celtics 101-95 and on Saturday the Knicks dropped their first game of the preseason to the Hornets, but Fisher saw many things he liked about his team’s play in both games.
“I think overall we’re doing some good things. We’re trying to do the things that you practice daily, and it takes time to get close to what your ceiling can be. But for us, starting training camp and this part of the season is really about just learning how to compete at a high level and really be able to compete hard, play with some toughness, bring a certain mindset to the game,” Fisher said. “I think guys are competing and playing hard and putting in the right effort out on the floor.”
In the Knicks victory over the Celtics, many players on the Knicks put together solid games. Fisher was complementary of Kyle O’Quinn, who recorded the team’s only double-double of the night.
“We’ll see,” Fisher said when asked whether or not he is considering starting O’Quinn at power forward to enter the season. “Kyle’s done some really good things for our team but it’s about the balance of our roster and guys that we need staring, coming off the bench…but I’m not going to over analyze which guys start and which guys don’t. We’re fortunate enough the way our roster’s built that whoever starts and whoever comes off the bench, they can play.”
O’Quinn finished the game with an impressive stat line of 13 points, 11 rebounds, two blocks, two steals and an assist. If O’Quinn keeps it up, Fisher may be forced to look to the Norfolk State product as the season starts with the team already thin at the power forward position.
Aaron Afflalo made his preseason debut on Friday and he put together a good all-around performance for the Knicks as their starting shooting guard. D-Fish was happy with his transition back to the court after dealing with a hamstring injury that kept him out of game action since last season. Afflalo finished the contest with eight points, five rebounds and an assist while going 1-for-2 from beyond the arc.
“That’s impressive to not have basically played a game since last season, and to have the injury and work his way back. He looked comfortable out there, confident and he looked sure of what he wanted to do,” Fisher said. “It’s not an easy thing to do so I think that says a lot about his mental makeup.”
Derrick Williams continued his high-scoring preseason while leading the Knicks in points for the third straight game. Fisher thinks that his successful play will certainly be carried over to the regular season.
“I think the things he’s doing out there are what he’s capable of doing and that’s taking good shots and good open shots when they’re there,” Fish explained. “He’s using his athleticism on both the ends of the floor and he’s being aggressive…I think the idea is that he just continues to be confident in who he is and trust that he can go make plays, and the way that we play will allow for that.”
Williams scored 19 points and five rebounds to go along with a blocked shot and a steal. The 6’8” forward out of Arizona also has his three-point stoke in midseason form as he drained three out of his five attempts. Fisher sees Williams as a player that could thrive in the Knicks system this upcoming season.
“The way we play is not limiting or restricting in any way and I think[Williams] is a good example of how regardless of what style of game a guy has, he can still fit in to what we do,” Fisher said.
Fisher talked about his team’s versatility and he really likes how some of the smaller guys, like Afflalo, were playing with their backs to the basket. This gives the Knicks a valuable added dimension defensively. He’s sees many guys on his roster as capable players in the post, which will be a matchup challenge for the teams the Knicks play throughout the season.
“We’re definitely excited about having the versatility in our lineup from the wing and up front,” D-Fish explained. “We believe we have some guys who are good enough to have to force teams to make a decision on how they want to defend us. We have good enough guys that can shoot from the perimeter and I think Aaron’s good enough, Carmelo’s good enough, I think Derrick can develop a post-game that can make him good enough, and then obviously our traditional big guys…we want to get our penetration by playing though the post and we feel like we can do that throughout the season.”
In Friday’s game, Carmelo Anthony and Jerian Grant each scored eight points. More of the Knicks’ offense came from Cleanthony Early, who put up 10, and also Sasha Vujacic, who scored 10 points and knocked down two three-pointers.
On Saturday, in the Knicks second-leg of their back-to-back, they dropped their first game of the preseason to the Hornets, falling 97-93. Despite the outcome, there were still many positives to take away from the contest.
Towards the end of the game, Fisher had Grant and Langston Galloway on the floor together to try and close it out, and just by having them on the court in that situation, Fisher felt that it was a valuable experience gained for the both of them.
“I think we learned a lot tonight and that’s why we got Jerian and Langston back in the game so they get as many opportunities as possible to kind of understand what the responsibilities are down the stretch,” D-Fish said. “Both guys are pretty calm and cool customers. They handled the situation pretty well. Just overall with a different unit out there that hadn’t finished a game before, a little bit disjoined, but I thought the effort was good and guys were trying to do the right things.”
In Galloway’s second season playing in the Knicks system, Fisher sees him as becoming a key part of the team as someone the younger guys can look up to alongside some of the veterans when trying to learn the ins and outs of the Knicks triangle. Galloway had an impressive night shooting the ball as he scored 15 points and nailed all three of his three-point attempts.
“[Galloway] has almost always had a veteran presence even though he’s a young player. I think all of our guys respect who he is, how he works at his game and I think he does make us better because of his maturity as a young player.”
Early, who had an up-and-down, injury-plagued rookie season, is now healthy and is starting to come into his own on both ends of the floor. He led all Knicks players on Saturday with 17 points to go along with four rebounds.
“I think Cleanthony has developed nicely,” Fish said. “I think the first part of it for him was physically getting to a point where he could perform night in and night out without breaking down. He had some ankle problems last year, had some knee stuff and he’s taking care of his body and doing well. He’s attacking the basket and I think that’s really the strength of his game, really using his athleticism and size.”
Kristaps Porzingis also put together a good game on Saturday by using his aggression and tenacity to go to the rim and be a difference maker. Fisher is liking what he is seeing out of the Latvian big man’s play this preseason, and he hopes that Porzingis will develop into a difference maker on both ends of the court, even though the his shooting hasn’t been a strong suit.
“I saw aggression. I saw him going to the rim strong. I saw him rebounding. I saw him changing shots. He’s been in and out [of the lineup] so his shooting is not really my issue. I don’t think we question whether or not he can shoot the ball,” Fisher explained.
Although the Knicks have played well through their first five preseason games, Fisher wouldn’t say that things are going smoothly because in the preseason, he feels that being uncomfortable and working though different scenarios is what benefits a team for the long season ahead.
“Preseason’s can never go smooth. If the preseason is going smooth you better look out because somethings coming up that shouldn’t be happening. The preseason is supposed to be ugly and uncomfortable and weird and guys playing that maybe won’t play, guys playing that not as much that are going to play more later,” Fisher said when asked how he would gauge his team’s 4-1 start in preseason action. “The main thing like we talked about is that in this league you just have to be prepared for every opportunity that shows up.”
The Knicks are slated to play the Celtics again on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. EST to close out the preseason. The game will be shown on MSG2 and NBATV.